|About the author: Anita Scharis Blom, born and raised in the Netherlands, is living in Sweden. She works as an operation manager for the Workers’ Educational Association. She is chairperson of the local stuttering chapter, board member, international contact and former chairperson of the Swedish stuttering association, vice chair of the European League of Stuttering Associations, and member of the advisory board for the International Stuttering Association. She is a national and international keynote speaker on stuttering and has her own stuttering consultant company. She is also a leader of national and international children and youth camps. She has stuttered since she was 9 and had a troublesome youth, now inspiring people who stutter of all ages, they can make a difference.” Her device is “S-s-sure I s-s-stutter. What are you good at?”
My life has been a journey. I was born in a big city in the Netherlands. When I was nine years old, we moved to a small village near the German border, where my stutter suddenly appeared. In previous ISAD online conferences I told you about my challenged youth, with heavy bullying from teachers and classmates, the abuse from therapists and about me trying to “check out” on life, so if you want to know more about that journey, do take a read through past online conferences. Luckily I lived to tell my story. I found Mr Right and moved to Sweden; and there I found… my Stamily (stuttering family)! It felt as in the movie Ice Age, where they thought they were the only ones, and suddenly they found their whole tribes. This made me shout out loud screaming NO MORE! No more shall I cover myself with silence. No more shall I accept that other people don’t know we exist.
I took my handbag to a local chapter meeting. Wow, people who sound like me! I took my suitcase to a national meeting. Wow, people my age were having fun and telling each other jokes, with stuttering and all! I took my suitcase to a European meeting. Wow, people were stuttering in different languages! I took my suitcase to a World Congress. Wow, people were stuttering everywhere in the world, in all countries, and all ages, with all kinds of employment.
The number of worn-out suitcases is huge, because they have travelled all over the world, to local and national meetings; to the European Union (EU) in Brussels and to Nordic seminars. (Next year in Finland, the land of lakes and saunas, which are even on the program. J) I have been to ELSA European meetings; to world congresses and to countless speaking occasions. From sitting on the floor with pre-school children to giving international keynote speeches, of course talking about stuttering. My promise, to myself and to the world, to stop people who stutter (PWS) thinking they are alone, has turned me into who I am today:
An addict . A stuttering junky. The day I got my first shot of people who “get it” when I was 27 (!), I was hooked. From that moment on I wanted to know and learn about stuttering, and to pay forward what I’ve learned and experienced in my past. My addiction needs to read and write about stuttering. (Why oh why did Hangouts, blogs, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and even Pinterest come into my life as ways to communicate about stuttering!) My addiction needs to talk about stuttering, from my poor family members, the person next to me on the train and the airport customer (“You are going to a what, Ma’am?”), to politicians and all possible media. My addiction needs to learn about treatments and it made me try so many of them, from regular speech therapy to acupuncture, healing, wearing stones, you name it. But even more, my addiction needs to meet PWS.
My addiction gets nourished by people who get it. By parents talking about their battle to find the right help for their child who stutters (CWS) while tears cover my face. By feeling my heart explode when a young PWS talks into the microphone with pride on his/her face, stuttering and all. By those devoted Speech and Language Pathologists (SLPs) who cry for joy seeing their clients on stage. I need to meet those strong PWS and role models who changed so many lives. By those PWS who have never met or spoken to another PWS before. By the latest treatments and research that may give some answers. By seeing people hug, sing and dance, speak with everyone, share their deepest emotions and become friends for life. By reading afterwards how big an impact meeting other PWS have made on a person’s life and how that has been a changing moment to expand their comfort zones and make life changes. By knowing they are sharing their knowledge and experiences and paying it forward. By hearing that more and more people stand up and speak up. By knowing that the butterfly effect is making more and more people know we exist and that more and more PWS come out of the closet.
Luckily I’m not the only one who’s addicted and I must admit, we try to get other people addicted too. We have our secret meeting places on the internet, we meet at coffee tables in the corner of the dining room and we suddenly pop up in social media and try to get more people to get their dose of the stuttering outreach virus, just to directly take them in private and fill them with information on how to pay it forward. And when people want out, we desperately drag them back inside the scene by painting the picture how dark and lonely life is outside the stuttering scene.
It’s hard work to keep my addiction fed and unfortunately I now need to skip parts of my kicks and take it slower (who, me?) for health reasons. It’s so extremely hard, so instead of going cold turkey, I try to exchange some of my hard-core kicks with more adjusted ones. Such as making bracelets with stuttering quotes, all from thoughtful (such as “F*** stuttering” and “Proud stutterer”) to funny (“Wait for it” and “Keep calm and stutter on”). Even many of the books I fold have a stuttering theme and one will be available at the auction at the World Congress next year.
Yes, congress. Stuttering congress. World congress. In Atlanta, USA, 5-10 July 2016. It is arranged for and by people who stutter, their families, friends, therapists and all other people who want to become a part of our “stamily”. Imagine a thousand people who “get it”. Where you simply enter the door just to find people coming towards you to say Hhhhhi. Where you hear languages you’ve never heard before. Where public tears and hugs are just as normal as a cup of coffee. Where all information on stuttering, personal stories as well as the latest treatments and theories, from all over the world, are all gathered in one place.
A world congress is THE place to start, and maintain, your addiction. But for you newbies, some words of warning.
- Book your trip and your stay well in advance, because other addicts might have taken your seat and bed already.
- Do drink a lot of water, as tears, hugs, talking and drinking will drain your body liquids.
- Get your sleep before and after, as you won’t get much during the congress.
- Train your vocal cords before you go, so you won’t get a hoarse throat when talking, singing and cheering.
- Do not bring any books or other activities, as you won’t have time for that anyway.
- Don’t bring uncomfortable shoes, as the social outings and long dance nights might hurt your feet.
- Bring headache medication, as those kids and teens workshops may result in young PWS who go from quiet to loud.
- And bring your camera to capture all those best friend pictures, dressed in Cannes outfits, at the gala dinner.
- If you are a social person, don’t disturb those who sit in quiet corners, sharing and making new friends. Or join them and find out what’s deep inside a person.
- If you’re not a social person, don’t go to the many social events, as they might convert you into having an amazing time.
There are many more words of warning and this amazing place is still a secret to many, but, as you’re still reading this, I guess you’re one of us and you now have our blessings to read and spread the news coming from the two hard-core organisations who together organize this event: the International Stuttering Association (ISA) www.isastutter.org and the National Stuttering Association of America (NSA) www.westutter.org. Combining the heart-warming and encouraging NSA conference with the ISA world congress bringing together PWS from all over the world is a true paradise! So if you want people to get that all-time-high kick together with you, start recruiting now!
I don’t want to get rid of my addiction and I hope the world congress will bring new stuttering junkies to the scene, to have and to hold, from this congress forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part. And may my last words be “Keep talking”.
Anita S. Blom
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